The year was 2012. Hamdi Salihi, one of the Austrian league’s top forwards, signed a Designated Player deal with D.C. United. It felt like a big move. Same for Jerry Bengtson joining New England. Giles Barnes in Houston. Sherjill MacDonald in Chicago. Kris Boyd in Portland. Kenny Miller in Vancouver. Marco Di Vaio in Montreal.
They were the next crop of big-time, big-money goalscorers in Major League Soccer. They were our present and our future. They were a reason to get excited about the league and where it was going. They were, in retrospect, a sign of the times.
I remind you (and myself) of that snippet in time so nobody forgets just how much and how quickly the landscape has changed. Eight short years later, it’s Gonzalo Higuain we’re talking about as the latest goalscorer to arrive in MLS on a Designated Player contract. Eight short years later, it’s Inter Miami doing the signing, David Beckham now an owner instead of a defending MLS Cup champion.
Again, that’s Gonzalo Higuain, scorer of more than 300 goals for River Plate, Real Madrid, Napoli and Juventus. Gonzalo Higuain, worth $100 million to the Italian champions just four years ago. Gonzalo Higuain, who trails only Lionel Messi, Gabriel Batistuta, Sergio Aguero, Hernan Crespo and Diego Maradona on Argentina’s all-time scoring chart.
Gonzalo Higuain! But somehow there will be people out there who think, “Is that all?” That one of the top goalscorers of the past decade, anywhere in the world, doesn’t do it for them. That the name still isn’t big enough. Maybe these imaginary ho-hummers are nothing more than strawmen for me to knock down.
Crazy. Just crazy.
Crazy that anyone would not think Gonzalo Higuain is a massive signing who’s about to tear up opposing MLS backlines like junk mail destined for the trash. Crazy to think anyone could come away feeling underwhelmed by the signing of a player worth nine digits not so long ago on a free transfer in the middle of a pandemic.
Watch: The Extratime crew discuss the pressure on Higuain to deliver
Higuain will be the best natural goalscorer in MLS once he takes the field for Inter, and it won’t be close. He is a different class in the 18-yard box. He is a different class, period. I’m not trying to hate here, but his club and international career make Carlos Vela look pedestrian by comparison. Vela, in case you forgot, is the defending MVP, owner of all the records and only a year younger. Hell, Chris Wondolowski is 37. Kei Kamara is 36. Diego Valeri is 34. Nani and Maxi Moralez are 33. Darwin Quintero, Sebastian Blanco and Chicharito are 32. Age is just a number when you’ve got class.
Enter strawman: “Yeah, but what about those loan stints at AC Milan and Chelsea? And what about Juve letting him go?”
What about it? What about six months as a loan player at two massive clubs going through choppy waters and serious upheaval makes you think he can’t do it with Inter Miami? What about Andrea Pirlo turning over the Juventus squad and shedding wages in Covid times? What about all the talk that Vela would be disinterested and whispers about his fitness? How’d that work out?
Higuain isn’t some cut-the-check retiree. He’s Robbie Keane on steroids, a world-class player who no longer fit with his world-class club, yet still played 44 games for Juve last year and scored 11 goals to go with eight assists. He needs a place to be the alpha and omega. He’ll be that in Miami. He’s Keane. He’s David Villa. He’s Wayne Rooney. He’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic. (Well, maybe not Zlatan Ibrahimovic.)
He’s going to be an MVP candidate if he stays healthy. If you doubt that, I doubt you watch much MLS. To be honest, with that salary and the gap between the Inter we imagined we’d see and the Inter we see week to week, Higuain had better be an MVP candidate. It’ll be a failure if he isn’t, such are the expectations. I imagine that responsibility is part of why chose to come to MLS. He can leave a legacy.
Thankfully, the league won’t be a surprise to Higuain. He’s been hearing about every aspect of MLS from Federico since, conveniently for my lede, the summer of 2012. He’s got Beckham and Blaise Matuidi in his ear. He’s been watching his new team’s games, getting a feel for his teammates. He’s got something to prove, and he’s got what Inter are missing.
Zakuani on Higuain signing
Higuain is not a pure poacher, though he will absolutely poach. He is not a pure creator, though he can create. In the box and in buildup, he makes his own space and opens space for others. He can drop in, combine and deliver the final ball. He can flummox a packed-in defense with his movement. He can and will finish when opportunities present themselves (and often when they don’t). He can be a true game-changer in MLS in 2020.
If Miami keep playing on the counter, he’ll score goals. If they try to push higher up the pitch and play on the front foot, he’ll score goals. The players who play with him will score more goals. No matter what Diego Alonso decides to do, more goals. I’ll go ahead and Baerantee double-digits if Higuain starts double-digit games this year. I’ll Baerantee he’ll be a Golden Boot favorite in 2021.
For Miami’s sake, he better be.
The year is 2020. Gonzalo Higuain, still one of the top attacking players in the world, signed a Designated Player deal with Inter Miami. Now, that’s a sign of the times.